By the playwright’s own admission, the plot of his one-man show “Buyer & Cellar” rests on the “preposterous” premise of a young struggling actor who finds a job in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement.
In the 5 & Dime’s staging of Jonathan Tollins’ delightfully campy play, lead Bradley Akers flexes his funny bone as Alex, who imagines himself working in Streisand’s underground mall with elaborate storefront displays of the star’s dolls, costumes and even a functioning candy store. “Buyer & Cellar” opens October 5th at the 5 & Dime (www.the5anddime.org).
“Part of it is true and part of it isn’t. The part about the guy working in the basement mall is not true, but the basement mall does exist,” says director Lee Hamby of Streisand’s underground collections which were the subject of her 2010 book “My Passion for Design.” “His life is based around this book, and throughout the show he is referring to pages in this book. What’s funny is that it says principle photographer Barbra Streisand. Most of the credits in the book belong to her. She is definitely a fan of herself.”
The stage is simply dressed in comparison to the fantastical elements of the show with just a table and chair and a chaise lounge. Video projections will be used to help the audience visualize specific points during the show like Alex’s first job at Disneyland as the Mayor of Toontown and locations throughout Hollywood.
While Akers is a familiar name in the local theatre community, it’s usually associated with his work behind the scenes. His turn as Alex marks his return to the stage following a five-year hiatus from performing. The self-imposed break allowed him to focus solely on directing. “Buyer & Cellar” is a unique vehicle to reintroduce him in a different light.
“I knew that if I was going to get back on stage I needed it to be something that was incredibly challenging that pushed me as far as I could go,” he says. “I was really cautious because I knew what kind of commitment this was as an actor.”
With the role of Alex, Akers isn’t inching back into the acting pool. The performance is a comedic cannonball into the deep end as the lead in a one-man show who also plays various characters from his ex-partner to Barbra’s assistant who hired him for this job.
“One of my favorite parts of this play and has always been is that even though it’s just one person performing, I still get to play five different characters within the realm of the play. The piece is so conversational in telling people about my time in Barbra Streisand’s basement, and I become all the people I interacted with during the time,” he says.
“Another reason it was really important for me to do this show is that it re-energizes my respect for the acting process. I ask so much of my actors when I direct, and I know that about myself, but being back on the other side kind of gives me that fresh perspective to be able to respect, understand, and appreciate the process of an actor. I like to get out of my comfort zone.”
Akers says he thought his performing days were behind him, but Hamby was a constant voice looking for the right material to entice him back to the stage. “Buyer & Cellar” just happened to be one of the shows on his list.
“I told him don’t give this up because not all directors have the talent to be on stage and he certainly does. I knew that I needed someone with the kind of energy that he has. He’s so funny, and not a lot of people get to see that. He’s such a hard worker and such a task master when he’s directing, so to see him do this and have fun is going to be a delight for everybody,” says Hamby.
“When I called him, I never really thought he would accept, but he did, and here we are. I think for our audiences, it’s important for them to see someone new on stage. We have so much talent in this town that it’s always nice to see a fresh face, especially in a role like [this] because you kind of need to immerse yourself in this character, and a lot of people know people so well from being on stage so many times that it’s hard for the audience to see them fully as this character.”
While the role of Alex required a young actor capable of reciting a voluminous amount of dialogue with the charisma to carry the entire show, Akers also needed a crash course in the gay culture of the era.
“It takes somebody that young to memorize all these lines and the sense of humor and kind of style needed for the part. Bradley seemed kind of perfect for it [but] his generation is not the same as my generation with the love of Barbra Streisand. We’ve really talked about the time period with reference to fashion photographers and designers. Donna Karan was always her go-to. I’ve spent a lot of time explaining gay culture at that time when Barbra was really big,” says Hamby.
“I’ve been reading this show forever, and I was scared someone else was going to grab it. It’s hard for us at the 5 & Dime to find a show that is super funny because we tend to like strong stories that make you think and educate, and this show is that perfect mix,” says Hamby.